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HIV/AIDS Activist Hydeia Broadbent's Open Letter to Us All

As I reflect on the many accomplishments of our ancestors and today's African Americans during our fifth black history month with a black President I realize how far we as African Americans have come and realize how more we will accomplish. But today, on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day I have to urge you to join me as we make the decision to be honest with ourselves and ask those tough questions that often go unanswered. Are we doing enough to help educate and empower our community on the subject of HIV and AIDS? Have we become so complacent that we are OK with the alarming statistics that are working against our people? Are we ourselves part of the problem as we choose to ignore the real issues?

While there has been a great deal of medical advancement in treating those living with HIV/AIDS and people can now live a longer and somewhat "normal" life, this certainly does not grant us a pass when it comes to educating one another on prevention. HIV/AIDS is 100% preventable yet as we ignore the facts and proceed as if AIDS is no longer a priority within our communities, the number of new infections amongst African Americans continues to rise higher than any other race.

These are facts! Not works of fiction; Yet it seems our voices have gone silent on this subject which in turn sends the message that contracting HIV is no longer big deal, while ironically holding on to and perpetuating the numerous stigmas that have persisted around the disease.

I am truly surprised by how many people do not believe they are at risk for contracting HIV yet have multiple sexual partners. It's very clear a large number of people in our society have become numb on the subject of cheating and have come to accept the back and forth between sexual partners. This is evident because now we see these types of relationships or situations played out right in front of our faces on some of our favorite reality shows. Now don't get me wrong, infidelity has been around for years in movies and on TV shows but what I find interesting is just how common and celebrated it has become. I, like most of America often tune into "ratchet TV", but one day as I watched one very popular reality show and saw the very common situation involving a man going back and forth between his main girl and side chick, I said to myself, "This behavior is the very reason why HIV is running so rampant within our community". We either don't realize how dangerous our behavior actually is or we don't take the time to step back and really look at what it is we are doing. How have we as women become so willing to share our men and become so reckless with our bodies? Some argue sleeping around is a form of empowerment; but risking your life and possibly contracting an incurable and costly disease just seems crazy to me! Now, I would be lying if I said all my relationships were perfect and I always made right choices but I think back to that period in my life when I was dealing with low self-esteem, depression and not knowing my true value. I think about those times and the choices that I personally made and I can almost understand why many women don't make wise choices when it comes to protecting their health.

I remember hearing a line from Jay-Z in which he stated "Men lie. Women lie. But numbers don't." The numbers aren't lying people and the story that they tell is a devastating one: The black community is being disproportionably impacted by HIV/AIDS at an alarming rate. While HIV/AIDS does not discriminate and affects every community, we cannot ignore the facts that AIDS is a bigger issue than we would like to admit within the black community. The shame and stigma that are associated with AIDS and HIV have persisted for years and have historically kept us from wanting to know our status when it is this knowledge of self that will keep you from unknowingly infecting anyone else. AIDS is not a moral disease. Those who are infected should not be ostracized and assumed to have made unwise choices. Just as those with various diseases are embraced and cared for by the community, we must extend that same courtesy to those infected with HIV and AIDS and end the judgmental ideologies and begin educating.

The CDC estimates that more than one million people are living with HIV in the United States. One in five (21%) of those people living with HIV are unaware of their infection. It is time for a reality check! How many of us have truly asked our partners about their status before becoming sexual involved with them? How many of us have had our partners get tested for STD's after they have cheated? How many of us began our sexual relationships using protection and after time passes and comfort levels rise, we choose to abandon using condoms without being tested first? And one of the biggest questions of all, how many of us are unaware of our own HIV status?

As African Americans and particularly women, we must make better choices when it comes to our sexual health. HIV infection for African American women is nearly 15 times as high as that of white women and nearly 4 times that of Hispanic/Latina women. Women account for about 1 in 4 new HIV/AIDS cases in the United States and of these newly infected women; about 2 out of 3 are African-American. When it comes to HIV/AIDS we do not only have to educate and empower ourselves to have those difficult conversations in our relationships, but we must always educate our youth and give them the tools to make realistic, informed decisions.

It's a troubling reality, but one we can change by working together to raise awareness and taking control of our health and the health of our children. Let's do this together.


Hydeia B.